Lombok in West Nusa Tenggara is an emerging tourist resort itself, but has long faced the problem of poverty among its population — whose livelihoods largely depend on forest resources.
Most state-owned forest areas in Lombok, however, especially those in areas surrounding Mount Rinjani (which was officially declared a national park with its rich natural resources), are being continuously damaged.
“Mount Rinjani supplies water for agricultural and other crucial purposes to the entire Lombok population,” said Rahmat Satibi, director of the Consortium for Study and Participation Development (Konsepsi), a local NGO which promotes Community Forestry Programs (HKm) in West Nusa Tenggara.
According to Konsepsi, deforestation endangers the livelihoods of Lombok’s residents, especially poor farmers who live off forest resources.
Rahmat said forest degradation in Lombok was getting worse every day.
“Most people live in poverty and they only have a tiny piece of land. This has forced them to find more land, including in forests near their villages,” he said.
The big problem in Lombok is deciding whether to protect forests while neglecting the fate of poor farmers, or to let the farmers freely exploit forest resources.
The government’s recent move to introduce a community forestry program came at the right time. The program, which allows farmers to take part in developing forest areas and harvest non-timber forest products, has seen a great deal of support.
The Community Forestry approach was first initiated in 1997 in the province, particularly in Central and West Lombok districts. In West Lombok district, the program has been implemented in Santong and Sesaot villages.
“We have timber well guarded within the forest and residents can harvest non-timber products, mostly short-lived plants which they grow under or between trees,” said Abidin Tuarita, a facilitator of the Community Forest Program at Santong village.
While waiting for timber trees to grow, members of the program plant non-timber forest products like coffee, cocoa, durian, vanilla, arica nut and bananas.
Santong village is now well known as a producer of good quality coffee beans and cacao.
“Traders from Bali and Java (two islands immediately to the west of Lombok) come to this village with trucks to collect non-timber forest commodities,” said resident Aswadi.
Non-timber forest products not only bring economic benefits to farmers, but also have a strategic role in slowing the villagers’ encroachment into forest areas, and thus helping to conserve the environment.
By making use of non-timber forest products, farmers have avoided removing trees carelessly.
“Vanilla grows by entwining their stems upward along tree trunks. When people cut trees down, their hopes of harvesting vanilla go up in smoke,” he explained.
L. Syaiful Arifin of West Lombok district’s Forestry and Plantation Office said the Community Forestry Program was a “compromise” where two contradictory purposes — to ensure forest conservation on the one hand, and on the other to help forest farmers prosper — could be negotiated fairly.
“The government scarcely has enough human resources to guard the forests, so the Community Forestry Program is an ideal format to manage people’s participation in forest development,” he said.
However, the sustainable forest program has not yet been met with regulations favoring farmers, and consequently they are still hoping for legal grounds for their engagement in forest management.
“A permit for forest management would allow us to become wholeheartedly involved in developing forest areas and prevent us from violating the law.
“It would also clarify farmers’ rights and responsibilities,” said Artim, a member of Maju Bersama farmers’ cooperative unit which was established to empower Santong villagers.
The only legal standpoint farmers have for their involvement in the program is the 1999 Forestry Law. The problem remains, however, that regulations related to this law tend to be biased, if not contradictory.
For this reason, Rahmat said, the group has requested the local Forestry and Plantation Office, legislative council members and NGOs get together to produce a regulation on community forestry for the benefit of forest farmers.
Apart from this regulation, he said, partnership with the program’s stakeholders would also play an important role in producing a better set of forestry regulations.
Several local regulations on community forestry were issued by West Nusa Tenggara province, however, they are still inadequate, Rahmat said.
“The government needs take a serious approach to preparing good forest governance,” said Dwi Sudarsoni, director of the Nusa Tenggara Community Foundation that actively provides support for the sustainable management of natural resources.
“In the end, this will lead the farmers toward prosperity.”